Thursday of the Third Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

There’s a little line in the Gospel reading that could pass us right by, or at least puzzle us to the extent that we forget it and move on.  But I don’t think we should.  That line is: “Take care what you hear.”  It closely follows Jesus’ other hearing-related line: “Everyone who has ears ought to hear.”

Sometimes we choose to hear just what we want to hear, and that seems to be the opposite of what our Lord is counseling today.  Instead, we ought to be ready to hear the Truth, and to speak and witness to that Truth at all times, like a lamp on a lampstand.

We will be measured by our willingness to do that, and when we have courage to bring the Truth to a world in need of hearing it, still more graces will be measured out to us.

Take care what you hear.

Saint Thomas Aquinas, Priest and Doctor of the Church

Today, we celebrate the feast of Saint Thomas Aquinas, one of the pre-eminent theologians of our Church.   At the age of five years old, Thomas was promised to the famous Benedictine monastery at Monte Cassino.  His parents were hoping that one day he would become the abbot of that community, which was a very prestigious and politically powerful position.  He later went to Naples to study, and a few years later abandoned his family’s plans for him and instead joined the Dominicans.  By order of his mother, Thomas was captured by his brother and brought back home, where he was kept essentially in house arrest for a year.

Once free, he resumed his stay with the Dominicans and went to Paris and Cologne to study.  He held two professorships at Paris, lived at the court of Pope Urban IV, and directed the Dominican schools at Rome and Viterbo.  He is very much known for his prolific writings, which have contributed immeasurably to theology and the Church.  Thomas spoke much of the wisdom revealed in Scripture and tradition, but also strongly taught the wisdom that could be found in the natural order of things, as well as what could be discerned from reason.

His last work was the Summa Theologiae, which he never actually completed.  He abruptly stopped writing after celebrating Mass on December 6, 1273.  When asked why he stopped writing, he replied, “I cannot go on…. All that I have written seems to me like so much straw compared to what I have seen and what has been revealed to me.”  He died March 7, 1274.

Thomas has taught us through his life and writing that the only thing that can cause the house of the Church to crumble is ignorance.  We strengthen ourselves and our community by studying the Scriptures and the teachings of the Church, applying reason and revelation to the challenges of our world and our time.  “Hence we must say,” Thomas tells us, “that for the knowledge of any truth whatsoever man needs divine help, that the intellect may be moved by God to its act.  But he does not need a new light added to his natural light, in order to know the truth in all things, but only in some that surpasses his natural knowledge” (Summa Theologiae, I-II, 109, 1).

In our Gospel today, Jesus speaks of those who do God’s will as his family.  Saint Thomas was one who taught the wisdom of following that will so that we might be the brothers and sisters of Christ.

Monday of the Third Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

This is a tough text from the Gospel today.  Jesus says that “whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never have forgiveness…”  This seems to be an incongruous statement from Jesus, who came to be all about forgiveness.  That he would withhold it from any sinner is shocking, I think.

But we have to remember what it is that Jesus was addressing here.  The scribes who had come from Jerusalem catch up with Jesus and begin to make trouble for him.  They are being obstinate in their unbelief, even to the point of being intellectually dishonest.  They know that Satan cannot cast himself out, but that’s just what they’re accusing Jesus of being and doing.  They would rather say foolish things than to believe that Jesus came to cast out sin and forgive sinners.

Salvation and forgiveness are a gift, and gifts must be accepted.  If one refuses to be forgiven, he or she will never have forgiveness.  If one refuses to believe that he or she needs a Savior, then he or she will never come at last to eternity.

May we never forget how much we need our Savior.

Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul

Today’s readings

If we think that we are the ones who get to determine the direction of our lives, we are dead wrong.

Look at Saul: educated in all the finest Jewish schools, well-versed in the Law and the Prophets, and zealous for the faith to a fault.  He was absolutely the model Jewish man and had credentials that came directly from the high priests.  Everyone knew of him, and his fame – or infamy – spread all over the Judean countryside.  He had participated in the stoning of Saint Stephen, letting the cloaks of the ones stoning him be piled at his feet.  He was bringing all the followers of Christ back in chains to be tried and punished for following this new way.  He was even on his way to Damascus to collect “the brothers” – that is, the apostles – and put them on trial.  The man was greatly feared.

Look at Ananias.  He was no fool.  He was well-acquainted with Saul’s evil plans and did everything he could to stay out of his path.  He obviously wanted to stay out of prison, but more than that, he wanted to keep people like Saul from destroying the community of the followers of Jesus.  Ananias was every bit as zealous for the faith as Saul was.

They both knew the direction of their lives and thought they had it all planned out.  But they were dead wrong.

God can take the most zealous and stable of us and throw our whole lives into confusion.  He sometimes uses great means to get our attention and move us in a new direction.  Like a bright light, or a vision.  But sometimes he uses quiet words in prayer or the gentle nudging of a friend.  Conversion is a life-long process for all of us, and in St. Paul’s and Annanias’s stories, we can see the danger of being too entrenched in what we think is right.  The only judge of what is really right for us is God alone, and when we forget that, we might be in for a rude awakening.

The whole purpose of all of our lives, brothers and sisters, is to “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.”  The way that we do that is to constantly listen for God’s voice and always be willing to go wherever he leads us.

Saint Francis de Sales, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

Saint Francis de Sales was born in the Savoy region of France-Italy in 1567.  His priesthood had him work diligently for the restoration of Catholicism in his homeland, reclaiming it from the clutches of the protestant reformation.  He became bishop of Geneva, and was known for his writings, work and example.  He says that it took him 20 years to conquer his quick temper, but no one ever suspected he had such a problem, because he was known for his good nature and kindness.  His perennial meekness and sunny disposition won for him the title of “Gentleman Saint.”

This is a quality that we all wish more people had, and perhaps we wish we had it as well.  For all of us who seek to overcome a quick temper, or overcome the disposition to say something we wish we hadn’t, or the tendency to press “send” on a tersely-written email, St. Francis de Sales is our patron.  Saint Francis is also known to be the patron of the deaf, since he devised a kind of sign language in order to teach the deaf about God.  His beautiful writings have inspired many in their faith and earned him the title of Doctor of the Church.

In a moment we will offer our gifts, and pray for the grace to lead a holy life.  Following the example of Saint Francis de Sales, maybe we can call on God for meekness, and humility, and patience.  As he once wrote: “The person who possesses Christian meekness is affectionate and tender towards everyone: he is disposed to forgive and excuse the frailties of others; the goodness of his heart appears in a sweet affability that influences his words and actions, presents every object to his view in the most charitable and pleasing light.”  Who wouldn’t want to look at the world that way?

Thursday of the Second Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Today we hear about the amazing power of spiritual friendship, through the lens of the relationship of Jonathan and David.  If it were not for Jonathan, Saul would have murdered David not just in the story we heard today, but many times.  The Lord’s rejection of Saul was driving him to madness, and, as many insecure people do, he was doing everything possible to sabotage the one who was making him look bad.  But Jonathan’s intervention changed things, and David lived to become a great king.

Please note that I’m not just extolling friendship alone here.  Certainly friendship is a good thing, even a gift.  But I said this reading was about the amazing power of spiritual friendship.  Spiritual friendship has its basis in God’s grace, and is a special gift from God.  A spiritual friendship is a kind of companionship in which the companions, in their affection for one another, lead each other to God.  Jonathan and David did that in many ways, and the fruit of that was that Jonathan protected David’s vocation to be king.  Spiritual friends do that – they always bring out the best in each other; they help each other become what God created them to be.

Today, pause and be grateful for those who have been spiritual friends to you.  Think of those who have helped you become who you are; those whose encouragement has brought you closer to God.  May God bless those who have been a blessing to us.

Monday of the Second Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

One of the great problems that many people have with living the spiritual life is that they want it on their own terms.  So often, we think we know what God wants, or even worse, we want God to want what we want.  And so we act according to our own desires instead of God’s, and then we’re surprised when it doesn’t work out.  If we’re honest, we all struggle with this on some level from time to time in our lives.

Certainly Saul struggled with it.  Anointed as king over Israel, he was given very clear instructions as to what God wanted.  God wanted Saul and his army to overtake the Amalekites and destroy them from the face of the earth.  This sounds harsh, but we need to read it spiritually.  The Amalekites represented the worldly, sinful influences that the Israelites – and we! – struggle with, so they have to go.  But Saul allowed his soldiers to do what they wanted: they kept the livestock and justified it by sacrificing the best of them to God.  But God didn’t ask for sacrifice, he asked for obedience, and that disobedience will prove to be their undoing.

Similarly, the Pharisees expected the disciples of Jesus to fast.  But Jesus hadn’t asked for fasting, he asked his disciples to follow.  The Pharisees couldn’t see that, and so they too acted in disobedience.

We are all asked by God to do something all the time.  It’s not up to us to decide what God wants or how he wants us to do it.  Our task as disciples is to follow, to obey the Lord.  Because that’s the only way we’re ever going to triumph over sin and death, the only way that we will ever be truly happy.

Saturday of the First Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

In today’s Gospel, we have the continued Epiphany of Jesus manifested as one who identifies with sinners.  That is not, of course, to say that he was a sinner; quite the contrary, because we know that Jesus was like us in all things but sin.  But today we see that he is certainly concerned with calling sinners to the Kingdom, and concerned enough that he will be known to be in their company.  He eats with them, talks with them, walks with them.

This of course, riles the Pharisees.  And, to be fair, for good reason; Jewish law taught that sinners were to be shunned; they were cast out of the community.  But Jesus has come to say that he hates the sin but loves the sinner; that nothing in us is beyond the power of God to redeem.  Nothing that we have done can put us so far away from God that we are beyond God’s reach.  And God does reach out to us, in tangible ways, in sacramental ways, in the person of Jesus and through the ministry of the Church.

Sin is a terrible thing.  It’s often cyclical.  Because not only does the judgment of the Pharisees – and others – make sinners feel unworthy; but also does the guilt that comes from inside the sinner.   The more one sins, the less worthy one often feels of God’s love, and so the more does that person turn away from God, and then they sin more, feel less worthy, turn away again, and so on, and so on, and so on.

But Jesus won’t have any of that – he has come to put an end to that cycle once and for all.  Jesus is the One who walks into the midst of sinners, sits down with them and has a meal.  He is the divine physician healing our souls, and those who do not sin do not need his ministry.  But we sinners do, so thanks be to God for the manifestation of Jesus as one who came to dine with sinners.

Thursday of the First Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Today, Jesus manifests himself not just as one who came to do flashy deeds and heal the sick, but as one who does will that we would be made clean.  When Jesus performs a miracle, there’s always something deeper he’s getting at, always something more profound that he intends to reveal.  The healing of the leper reveals that Jesus is one who intends to heal us from the inside out.

“If you wish, you can make me clean.”  It’s kind of a weird statement, don’t you think?  On the face of it, it’s obviously true.  Jesus can do anything he wishes.  So it really seems to be a test of what it is that Jesus wishes to do.  And in the light of continuing Epiphany, Jesus reveals that he does, indeed, wish that the leper – and all of us too – would be made clean.  Notice that the leper doesn’t ask to be healed of his leprosy, although being made clean could certainly be construed to mean just that.  And Jesus doesn’t say, “I do will it, you’re healed.”  He says instead, “be made clean.”

I think Jesus intends for the leper, as he intends for all of us, that his sins would be forgiven, and that he would indeed be clean on the inside just as much as on the outside.  This may even have been the deepest desire of the poor leper’s heart, as it certainly should be for all of us.  To be made clean inside and out is certainly within the power of Jesus’ abilities, if he would just will it.  And today, we don’t have to tap dance around the issue or walk on eggshells to see if Jesus wills our complete healing.  We see that he certainly does, and for that Epiphany we should continue to rejoice.

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